Detroit Public Schools Lay Off Thousands of Teachers

Detroit Public Schools Lay Off Thousands of Teachers
Recent news out of Detroit finds that thousands of teachers and school staff have been notified they will have to reapply for their jobs for the next school year. What does this mean for students and the district?

In response to numerous changes made to the Detroit Public School system this year, thousands of teachers in the district have received “pink slips” telling them they can reapply for their jobs this summer. With more than 4,000 teachers now unemployed for the upcoming school year, many are predicting that chaos will reign when students return to classrooms this fall. At the same time, district officials are attempting to reassure students and parents that the decision to lay off teachers is the best way to ensure they have sufficient teachers – and the right teachers – heading up classrooms at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year.

"In this short video, Atlantic associate editor Alia Wong traces the history of Detroit Public Schools—from a model for urban education at the turn of the century to a failing, debt-ridden system today."

Changes to the District Prompt Layoffs

One reason for the mass layoff is the many changes the Detroit school system will face in the upcoming school year. A new system, the Educational Achievement Authority, has been put in place to deal with schools that are consistently unable to perform at state standards. Under this system, 15 Detroit schools are slated to switch districts for the next school year, removing those schools from the Detroit Public School system. All of those schools were classified as low-performing, according to state standards. This change involves approximately 12,000 students, who will be leaving DPS for the Educational Achievement Authority system.

Huffington Post reports that in addition, nine school buildings are scheduled to close or consolidate, reducing staff and faculty that would have been assigned to those schools. Ten Detroit schools will remain in the district but will determine their own hiring policies under a new self-governing schools program. Finally, two current schools are scheduled to be converted into DPS charter schools, which will involve instituting their own hiring policies and form of governance.

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Following Last Year’s Pattern

The layoffs follow a similar pattern to the beginning of the current school year when numerous teachers were fired and then slowly brought back into DPS as a need arose. Steve Wasko, a spokesman for DPS, told National Public Radio that the process ensures the district is able to hire back the precise number of teachers it needs for the upcoming school year after all the changes are in place. It also provides a way for the district to bring back the right teachers, based on new tenure laws.

“This was done previously,” Wasko told NPR. “What’s different and what parents should be aware of is the process to call staff back. Based on new state law, all school districts are precluded from making hiring decisions based solely on seniority; thus decisions will be made based on evaluations.”

Wasko further explained to NPR that this process would ensure the district “brings back the right number of teachers given its need to downsize and places only teachers in the top categories based on objective evaluations in front of children.”

Last year, the school district also did mass layoffs prior to the beginning of the school year, but by the time the academic year was in full swing, all but 400 teachers had been called back. Detroit also followed a similar process two years ago, according to a report at My Fox Detroit. However, many involved with DPS said the process caused a great deal of chaos at the beginning of the school year and are facing the next phase with some trepidation and concern.

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Chaos to Open the School Year

One group that is not pleased about DPS’s layoff decision is the local teacher union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers. The president of that organization, Keith Johnson, told My Fox Detroit, “The last two years, we’ve done the same thing, and the last two years, we’ve had a chaotic start to the school year. You would think that the district would’ve learned its lesson from the previous two years. Apparently they have not.”

Johnson added that the union is preparing for a battle, as the school district determines who will get their jobs back and who will not. A new law states that teachers will no longer be hired back strictly according to seniority standing. Instead, a four-tiered evaluation that assesses teacher effectiveness will be used to determine who is hired and who is not. Johnson said the main problem with the state law is that the union never approved it. As a result, Johnson predicts there will be lawsuits filed throughout the re-hiring process, based on race, age and gender discrimination.

“I really believe that the district is setting a fine table for a series of lawsuits that they are going to lose when a number of teachers, particularly those who are the most experienced and don’t have anything adverse in their personnel records or have not committed any type of violation, are not brought back and teachers in the lower end of the salary scale, with less experience, are brought back,” Johnson told My Fox Detroit.

Wasko said that despite concerns, the district plans to have teachers back in classrooms by the time school starts in the fall.

“Our message is as much to parents as it is to teachers,” Wasko told My Fox Detroit. “I think what parents want to know is…that there’s going to be a teacher in front of every child this fall…and…that’s going to be the most highly qualified teacher that there is.”

According to The Republic, letters regarding the layoffs went out to teachers early in April. The layoffs are effective August 24, and Wasko said the plan is to bring the appropriate number of teachers back in the fall.

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